In mid-Wisconsin, right along Lake Michigan and a bit east of Green Bay, independent distributor Andy Mastalir (Tech Tools & Equipment) has been selling tools to area techs, factory workers and farmhands for about seven years. Based in Kewaunee, Andy takes a bit different approach (easily visible just by looking at his tool truck, err, trailer) on a route that gets him away from the city and calling on factories and farms as much as repair techs.
He knows that on any given day, at least during planting and harvesting seasons, his customers may be more likely to be in the field than in the shop, especially depending on the day’s weather. Andy said the relationships he builds are important to keep the irregular stops current.
“Some days you go in there, you’ve got four or five mechanics in there — other days you go in there and there’s nobody in the shop, everybody’s out in the fields or working somewhere else,” Andy said. “You’ve got to work that into how you do your business.”
Andy said the occasional missed customers are usually one week, and most will get their accounts current when they’re in the shop during Andy’s scheduled time the following week.
“They understand that I’m in a business, they take care of me. I understand that they’re in a business, and I can’t expect that when they’re running at 10 o’clock at night to harvest, they’re going to find their checkbook to pay their bill right away. It’s part of the relationship.”
Another seasonal factor to Andy’s route is that he covers parts of Door County, a summertime tourist destination.
“It’s good for our customers, because they get a lot of customers who come in that aren’t normal, local people, so they get a lot more opportunities that they wouldn’t have the rest of the year,” Andy said. “The only bad side of it is, it’s not something they can rely on 12 months a year for their business. They’ve got to be ready to take advantage of it when it’s there.
“You also want to watch out to make sure you’re ready to work with them on that,” he said. That could mean adjusting your stop during busy times, being flexible with special orders if they have a vehicle they’re not used to, or anything else to keep the shops from turning someone away.
Andy divides his route stops into four categories: Cars (repair shops/dealerships), manufacturing/factories, implements (farms/tractor dealers), and motorsports (motorcycles/ATVs/small engine shops). Each has definite unique traits.
“I’ve got a couple of factories that I stop by; that’s totally different from anything else you do because you walk into a big, huge place and you go through catching up with each guy on an assembly area … it’s a great way to see 50 guys in about an hour and a half,” he said.
Andy said another advantage to the factory stops are that, generally, the economic cycles are “up and down at different times than what the rest of my segments are.”
Adding the small-engine repair side of his motorsports segment, “there’s a mix of everything, every day,” to keep Andy busy.
One thing that immediately stands out for Andy is his tool trailer in a world dominated by tool trucks. The truck-and-trailer is similar to the setup of the distributor he bought the route from, though he upgraded the trailer in 2006. Andy feels having the fifth-wheel trailer and a pair of trucks equipped to haul it cuts down on potential downtime.
“The whole thing about this business is face time. You can’t be down,” he said. “If somebody has a van body, and they have a mechanical problem with any part of that truck, they’re out. They’re home. There’s no way to move that to another truck and drive again. You don’t have a second truck, most cases.
“There’s practically no reason I need unscheduled down time. … It’s happened more than once where something’s come up and I’ve literally pulled in, dropped my trailer out on the street, gone and got the other truck out of the building, hooked back on here, rolled that truck off the street and literally, I was back up and running in 10 minutes.
“It’s a little bit more of an investment when you’ve got two trucks and two sets of license and that kind of stuff, but I think it more than pays off for itself when you come to the other side of it,” Andy said. It keeps you in front of the techs, which is where you make your money, he said. As far as the two trucks’ workload, he switches off typically every maintenance cycle.
Andy said the most-wear mechanical feature of the trailer is brakes and axles.
“I can do a brake job in half an hour, because they’re disc brakes. … With a regular maintenance schedule, that’s all taken care of. I keep a good inventory of tires on hand, so I’m ready to go.”
Andy’s 18-ft. gooseneck trailer has 18 feet of floor space, plus some additional area in the gooseneck that he uses for the generator for the A/C and other items he wants to keep out of the way. One of things he ordered on this trailer was full-foam insulation.
“From the last trailer I had to this one, it is a day-and-night difference with how warm this one stays in winter, and how cool it does in the summer,” he said.
He considered other sizes, longer and shorter, but found that if he went much shorter, “I wasn’t going to have enough space [for tool display], but any longer and I was going to start running into that issue of not being able to make swings” through smaller shops.
The only downside Andy’s considered from the truck and trailer is that he doesn’t have a walk-through from the cab to the tools.
“Some of these guys can pull off on the side of the road, spin out of their seat, and check something in back [for a customer on the phone],” Andy said. “I might get a request somewhere, pull off the road, get out, run around into the trailer, check it … and that’s a little more inconvenient.
“But I think it more than pays off when I look at my upsides.”
STOCKING THE TRAILER
In addition to keeping the trailer setup from the previous distributor, Andy also relies heavily on Neu Tool to keep the trailer stocked.
That distributor “put me in contact with Neu Tool, and a couple of the suppliers. I use a few others, for the things you can’t get just at one spot,” Andy said. “I try to limit my number of suppliers simply because it cultivates a better relationship, and the more [business] you can do with one, the better they try to do for you, too.”
He equates it to what he expects from customers. As customers order more from Andy and stay loyal to him, he does as much as he can for them.
“If I’m expecting that from my customers, I also need to work that out with my vendors. It’s kind of a reciprocating thing.
“Neu Tool gives me the feeling they’re working with me to get what I need, to get where we’re going,” Andy said. “When I’ve got a problem and I can’t find something, or I’m having a problem getting an answer for something, I always feel like they’re there to help get over that.
“It’s what I try to give to my customers, and when I get that same thing back like I do from Neu Tool, of course I’m going to want to be loyal with them. I’m going to want to do whatever I can through them.
As far as ordering tools, Andy said he typically has three shipments a week which is key to staying on top of special orders that come up during the week, as well as keeping the shelves full.
“I try not only to keep the shelves full, but to keep the shelves full with the right things,” Andy said. “For instance, I had someone ask me the other day for a special tool for setting multiple carbs on motorsports equipment. … I’d probably be able to carry that for three to four years before you’d ever ask me for one again. That’s not the right tool for me to have on hand.
“But you’ve still got to keep your thumb on what you’ve got to have. You can’t let anything get outdated,” Andy said. “Something becomes obsolete and nobody’s going to want it, no matter how good of a deal you put out on it.”
There are some constants in tool sales, though.
“Hand tools are things you sell to the younger guys, the new guys, unless there’s something really innovative, really different. … The older guys already have their screwdrivers, they already have their wrenches,” Andy said. But power tools are a constant need.
“The power tools, most people are looking for a better way, a better power tool to do something easier for them,” Andy said. “You crawl underneath the dashboard with a screwdriver versus a power screwdriver, there’s a day-and-night difference with how long you’re under that dashboard.
“[Power tools] are always hot, as long as you can come up with another good way for them to use it,” he said “Whether more compact, more powerful — there will always be something that you can market.
“What I take in and what I promote mixes, depending on who has expressed a need, or told me about a new thing that they’ve done with something,” Andy said.
He recently was promoting a pneumatic needle scaler to shops for brake jobs. Usually thought of for removing old paint or cleaning rough welds, one customer told him about using a scaler to clean rust off from the inside of rotors, saving time on brake jobs. Thus, a week’s promotion was born from a customer’s comments.
“The deals are great when they’re happening,” Andy said. “When you do a $2,500 day in tools, you see shelves start to get bare in one day, because you’ve got so many sets going off at once,” he said. “It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling. And you know they’re good sales. You spread them out over 12 people, so you know you’ve got 12 people who are going to be paying you for the next five or six weeks.
“That starts to make you appreciate when you’re walking out at 7 o’clock in the morning, and you’re not walking back in your house until 7 o’clock at night. And you still have an hour’s worth of bookwork to do and get your order in.”
Andy said the job is not for those looking for a 40-hour work week, but that’s not necessarily bad.
He keeps his customers in mind when he’s away from the truck as well.
He works with family on some old car projects, including a ’31 Chevy hot rod and a ’66 Impala SS convertible waiting in the wings. He keeps up with customers that have similar interests, and has come back from shows and swap meets with parts for his customers’ projects.
“It is a great job — I love building the relationships and helping the people find a solution to what they’re looking for … and I like tools to begin with,” Andy said.
“If you can’t stay positive about things, don’t get into this business,” he said. “I’m a pretty positive guy, and that’s one thing that I think helps me keep rapport with people, keep talking to people, because I can still stay positive, when they may be having a bad day.”
Andy stays on top of everything through his positive attitude and the help of family. One brother helps check in orders, his mother helps with inventory and some special shipping items, another brother who is a shop owner helps with truck maintenance, his girlfriend helps with warranty items. …
“Having those brothers and family members to help me out to do those kind of things, that means a lot.”
Stay tuned to www.professionaldistributormagazine.com/video for a video walk-around on Andy's trailer.